All posts tagged: Mike Snelle

Heads Up! Swoon Says You Will Die

New show by Mike Snelle is about death, and Swoon Carves a Human Skull

Memento Mori in Latin translates as ‘remember that you will die’

Street Artist Swoon spoke to us yesterday about the 18th century skull of a woman that she spent weeks carving for a new show of Memento Mori inspired art for the Museum of Curiousity. Gallery owner Mike Snelle has transferred Black Rat Projects and is now dedicating his time to this curious effort, one which Swoon says has captured his attention for a while.

“Mike set up the Memento Mori show because he has kind of long been obsessed with how people reckon with their own mortality,” Swoon explains in her Brooklyn studio, “He studied philosophy at Cambridge partly out of an obsession with all of these kinds of questions like, ‘how do we die?’.”

In fact Memento Mori refers to a number of traditions throughout many cultures (German, Victorian, Mexican, Tibetan, others) of examining death and its role in our lives. The new group show is perhaps a more frank look at death than some of the traditions – but even those contain elements of light-hearted humor, so that may be an incorrect characterization.

Swoon. “A Slender Thread” Hand carved human skull, Book, Paper Cut Outs, Pill Bottle. (photo courtesy © Museum of Curiosity)

“It’s about wonder,” explains Mike as he speaks about the dream reliquary sculpture Swoon spent a week installing, “This exhibition mixes historical objects with contemporary interpretations of the theme and brings together an extraordinary selections of artworks.” Later he rattles off a list of other curiousities guests will see that include a hippo skull, a taxidermied ostrich from 1785, and paintings and carved human skulls commissioned specifically for the show.

And what about Swoon’s new contribution, a carved skull design that includes a symbolic birthing and her distinctive hand designs emanating from the natural lines and curvature of the cranium?

“I was wondering ‘what subject matter is befitting of this, something of this gravity?’ ,” she says of the carving project on this skull that came from a trader of artifacts who assured her of its rightful origins,  “So I thought about it and I thought that the only thing that seemed to make sense was to draw a birthing scene. So I ended up doing the birthing scene and then created a lot of patterns around it.”

The Connor Brothers take a decidedly humorous and ironic approach to the Grim Reaper. “Death Calls” Acrylic on canvas. (photo courtesy © Museum of Curiosities)

While she was deeply interested in the project and is gratified with the results, she felt a certain sense of weight was upon her during the experience – partially because of the subject matter and partially because of her own examination of mortality, her family, her experiences. Naturally all of these elements contributed to the outcome, including the choice of the accompanying book and medicine bottle that she chose to adorn and serve as foundation for the skull.

“I really felt that I was re-sacrifying the remain. It was already in a museum. That was why I thought long and hard about what kind of a scene could really be equal to the subject matter, because you don’t feel like it is something that you can do casually. So one of the German traditions is that they often put it on a Bible. But at the time I was carving it I was looking at my bookshelf and I took down a book that is called “The Slender Thread”. It is about a woman who worked on a suicide hotline and about her experiences with trying to talk people down from suicidality,” she says as describes the serious considerations that went into her choices.

“I was thinking about this woman’s work and about my own thoughts about mortality and people’s relationship to that in their own life and so that became the book that I used.”

Dr. Viktor Schroeder Memento Mori With Heilige Schrift, 2013. Cast human skull, 19th Century Bible, Victorian syringe and pocket watch , taxidermy butterfly. (photo courtesy © Museum of Curiosity)

Brooklyn Street Art: That is some powerful imagery and symbolism that you chose to work with. What did it feel like – what kind of relationship did you have to the skull over this period of time?  What was it like to let go of it?
Swoon: I was really glad. It wasn’t easy. It wasn’t an easy piece, you know? It felt like there was a heaviness that is not present in almost any other work that I have done and I was glad to be done with it. Like I said, you chose to be in the process of contemplating mortality and this has been tied into my own process of trying to understand.

In all creative endeavors there is a certain amount of anthropological and historical at play and Memento Mori may be more so, even as it sometimes includes humor by way of  bringing to the fore a topic that many modern Western cultures find difficult to grapple with.

“It is a really respectful treatment of the subject,” says Swoon of her contribution, “ and it is out of a serious inquiry.”


From the Dance of Death by Michael Wolgemut (1493)

18th Century Memento Mori, Carved Human skull. (photo courtesy of Museum of Curiousity)

Artists exhibited for Memento Mori include:

Butch Anthony, Jake & Dinos Chapman, Mat Chivers, Darren Coffield, The Connor Brothers, Nancy Fouts, Tom Gallant, Keaton Henson, Heretic, Saira Hunjan, James Lavelle, Michal Ohana-Cole, Marcos Raya, Dr. Viktor Schroeder, Jim Skull, Paul Stephenson, Kai & Sunny, Swoon, Ian Wilkinson,  Brian Adam Douglas and AVM Curiosities.

Memento Mori Opens on May 17th and continues until June 20th. 15 Bateman Street, Soho, London.


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The Museum of Curiosities Presents: “Memento Mori” (London, UK)

Memento Mori explores the most universal of subject matters: death, and brings together both historical and contemporary artworks which ask the viewer to contemplate their own mortality.

‘Memento Mori’ translates as ‘Remember you die’ and is said to originate in Ancient Rome where a general was parading through the city celebrating success in battle. A slave stood behind him and it was his duty to remind the general that, although he was at the peak of his success, he was still a man and not a God. The slave is said to have whispered ‘Memento Mori.

This exhibition mixes historical objects with contemporary interpretations of the theme and brings together an extraordinary selections of artworks.  With works ranging from an 18th century Reliquary containing the hand of a saint, to paintings and carved human skulls commissioned specifically for the show, Memento Mori promises to be a wide ranging and rich exhibition on a universal theme.

Artists exhibited include:

Dr Viktor Schroeder                                                      The Connor Brothers

The Chapman Brothers                                                     


Nancy Fouts                                                                        Ian Wilkinson

Marcos Raya                                                                        Butch Anthony                                                                       

Tom Gallant                                                                        Natasha Marks

Matt Chivers                                                                       

Brian Adam Douglas

Plus a selection of historical objects.

Memento Mori Opens on May 17th and continues until June 20th. 15 Bateman

Street, Soho, London.

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Swoon’s “Murmuration” Opens Tonight. A Look Inside.

Swoon’s “Murmuration” Opens Tonight. A Look Inside.

The scale! The hand coloring! The reclaimed cabinetry! Brooklyn Native Swoon has been, for weeks, laboring in London in preparation for her solo show “Murmuration”, which opens today at Black Rat Projects Gallery. Telling the stories of people and characters she has often introduced to the streets of New York, Swoon has brought Thalassa  (“sea”), a primordial Greek sea goddess to command the tunnel, and to adorn a small passage in London as a wheatpaste.

Check out the video of Swoon on the street with Time Out London at the end of this post. (video stills copyright Time Out London)

Thanks to Mike Snelle for sending to us a handful of process shots of the installation. He promises to clean up some of this walking area before the doors open tonight!

“I’m not crazy ’bout the art, Clarence, but I could really use this chest of drawers in the pantry. Ask the chap how much he’s getting for it”. Swoon “Murmuration” (photo © Mike Snelle)

Swoon “Murmuration” (photo © Mike Snelle)

Swoon “Murmuration” (photo © Mike Snelle)

Swoon, Thalassa reigns in “Murmuration” (photo © Mike Snelle)

Swoon’s tubes of paint lined up across a drop cloth in preparation for “Murmuration” (photo © Mike Snelle)

Thalassa inspects the ceiling fixture while Swoon runs to the store to get extra light bulbs to complete the illumination of “Murmuration”. (photo © Mike Snelle)

For further information about this show click here

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Swoon Prepping “Murmuration” for Black Rat

Street Artist and fine artist Swoon has been laboring in London for the past weeks to prepare art for her upcoming show “Murmuration” at Black Rat Projects. The actual installation has just begun and Mike Snell says it’s “still early days” but they’ve sent us a few behind-the-scenes shots to give BSA readers a glimpse of the developing world of Swoon.

Swoon in action while rocking out to some jams. (photo © Mike Snelle)

Swoon. “Sambhavna” awaits installation at Black Rat  (photo © Mike Snelle)

Swoon. “Move it a bit more to the left…”  (photo © Mike Snelle)

Things are still a little unsettled in the orchestra pit, with violins and tubas and sheet music all akimbo. Swoon.  (photo © Mike Snelle)

Swoon soaring upward while an assistant helps with the installation  (photo © Mike Snelle)

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Black Rat “Print Making Today”, New Swoon Print and ROA Installation

Black Rat “Print Making Today”, New Swoon Print and ROA Installation

” ‘Sambhavna’ has been our most technically complex printmaking project with Swoon to date” – Mike Snelle


Swoon at work on a edition of  “Sambhavna” at Black Rat. (Photo courtesy of and © Jay Goldmark)

Black Rat Projects, the London based publisher and art gallery, under the dynamic direction of Mike Snelle has been at work on a new print show highlighting a disciplined and revered practice to art making with works by a number of Street Artists including Swoon, Matt Small, Roa, Know Hope, Nick Walker, Pure Evil, Shepard Fairey and Banksy.An annual tradition for Black Rat is to mount a show whose primary focus is the edition, and this year brand new prints are being released by Matt Small, Candice Tripp and Swoon.


Swoon. (Photo courtesy of and © Jay Goldmark)

Swoon’s print is called  “Sambhavna” and is her portrait of three inquisitive and timid girls that has appeared on the streets of NYC and in parts of Europe.

The past week with Swoon in the Black Rat studio has been a great experience for Mike, who enthusiastically described her complex print, “The Sambhavna” print is pretty monumental. It’s1020 x 1445 mm (40.16″ x 56.89″) and in an edition of only 28. Each one is made up of 4 layers. The background is a huge sheet of white paper and the yellow is a collograph. The green/blue halos are laser cut and finally the girls themselves are screenprint (I think around 8 colors on each). Each one is incredibly time consuming but they have such a great depth because they have been built up.”


Swoon. (Photo courtesy of and © Jay Goldmark)


Swoon “Sambhavna” Finish print. Photo Courtesy of Black Rat Projects


A partial view of the installation in progress. Photo courtesy of Black Rat Projects

To mark the occasion with a celebratory event and to christen their new ‘artist in residency’ project, the Belgian artist ROA, fresh from his trip to Mexico, is in town at the moment to work on an indoors installation in the gallery. ROA is currently at work adding dimension to his work by constructing a new sculpture in the middle of the gallery using doors, windows and unexpected openings (images to come).

The complete list of artists for this show is Swoon, Matt Small, Roa, Know Hope, Gaston Francisco, Grayson Perry, Bridget Riley, Damien Hirst, Lucien Freud, Tracey Emin, Chris Ofili, Nick Walker, Pure Evil, Peter Doig, Shepard Fairey and Banksy.

In addition, the night of the preview Black Rat Projects will be presenting a performance of sorts by Stoke Newington’s  local printmakers  The Henningham Family Press. They have been invited to set up their  “Chip Shop” to provide an “inclusive insight into the fundamentals of printmaking”.

Thursday 10th February – Friday 4th March 2011
at Black Rat Projects
Arch 461, 83 Rivington Street
London, EC2A 3AY

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